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Did US West install a party line for Bill Owens?

Is it time for one of Colorado's gubernatorial candidates to hang it up? The only way to explain Democrat Gail Schoettler's recent financial relations with US West is that she must have dialed 303-BADKARMA.

In the latest campaign-finance reports filed with the secretary of state's office, Bill Owens, the Republican from Aurora, indicated that his campaign had collected at least $13,900 from 55 separate contributors who listed affiliations with US West.

Those same September 1 filings, which cover all contributions and expenditures in August, showed that Schoettler, the Democrat from Parker, took in just $100 from a single US West employee--out of 9,200 phone-company workers in the state.

Both camps have explanations for the disparity in contributions, beyond the accepted truism that Republicans are looked upon more favorably by behemoth businesses than are Democrats. Schoettler's campaign director, Mary Alice Mandarich, cautions that other people connected with US West--employees, attorneys or directors--may have contributed to Schoettler but did not list their affiliation with the phone giant.

Yes, Mary Alice, but then the same would probably be true for Owens.
For its part, US West says there was no company-wide directive to help Owens. "We do not tell employees where they ought to put their contributions," says spokeswoman Emily Harrison. "We encourage them to participate in the political process, but that's where it starts and ends."

In fact, she says, company rules disallow soliciting funds from employees for particular candidates--although US West's PAC chipped in $1,000 for Owens.

It's likely that US West workers contributed even more money to both campaigns than the reports show, Harrison adds, but, again, simply didn't list their affiliation with the company. "I would be shocked if only one of our employees contributed to Schoettler's campaign," she says.

Dick Wadhams, Owens's campaign manager, has another explanation for the disparity: The Owens camp conducted a fundraiser this past summer directed at US West employees.

Yes, Dick, but explain this bizarre development:
The Schoettler campaign reported paying US West a total of $3,620.32 for phone service during the reporting period. The Owens campaign, on the other hand, paid US West $1,463.85 during the same time.

Did Bill Clinton come to Denver, go to his fellow Democrat's office and run up a phone-sex tab? Just to make sure that something like that didn't explain away Schoettler's hefty bill, Westword investigators examined the previous month's report and found a similar pattern. During that period, which essentially covered the month of July, Schoettler's campaign paid US West $1,695.11, while Owens's campaign paid $518.10.

"I have no explanation for this," Mandarich says, when told of the difference in phone bills. "I continue to be amazed by Owens's low overhead."

The July bill, she adds, was for four "rollover" phone lines (to handle multiple calls) and two single lines for things like faxes. In fact, says Mandarich, Schoettler's bills are likely to grow because new lines are being added.

The Owens camp is sticking with its four lines. "I guess we're just better managers," says Wadhams.

According to Harrison, US West cut no special deals with either campaign. The company, she says, has a special group set up to handle "political accounts," and its billing practices are monitored internally. Both campaigns, Harrison stresses, "are flagged as 'political accounts' and are treated exactly the same."

Asked if they are charged the same prices, she replies, "Absolutely."
The US West spokeswoman won't reveal details of each campaign's phone setup, calling that "proprietary information." But she acknowledges that the two camps may be using different levels of technology.

Owens, Harrison emphasizes, is not getting a sweetheart deal.
But the situation reflects the sour state of Schoettler campaign's finances. The candidate herself has pumped more than $100,000 into her own campaign and still trails in total funds.

The gubernatorial contenders' reports reveal that Owens has more contributors among groups such as oilmen and gravel companies. But Schoettler has a clear lead in contributions from self-described "community volunteers." The Democrat also has the only known contribution from a "self-employed physicist": one Sallie A. Watkins of the Pueblo area. Watkins couldn't be reached for comment. Perhaps she's working on a unified-field theory for Schoettler that can raise more funds--and reduce that pesky phone bill from US West.

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